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It is not known how Hungerford got its name. The name Hungerford does not appear in the Domesday survey of 1086, and the first written reference to Hungerford by name dates from 1103-1118. Eddington (later to be known as Hidden-cum-Eddington) was a significant manor, listed in the Domesday survey as having between 600 and 1200 acres, with a mill, meadowland and woodland. A document dated sometime between 1103 and 1118 records that Robert de Beaumont granted "a manor near Hungerford, Edenetona by name" to the church of the Holy Trinity at Beaumont in Normandy.
So how did the name arise? There are three current possibilities proposed:
1. The ford where Hyngwar was drowned:
One of the best-known Vikings in Old Norse literature was Ragnar Lothbrok. Ragnar had several sons including Ivar the Boneless, Ubbe, Bjorn Ironside, and many others - many of whom feature in medieval Scandinavian sources, mostly from the 12th century and later. The historical origins of Ragnar himself are very uncertain, but Ivar and Ubbe and some of the other sons were certainly real people (not necessarily all brothers), who invaded, raided, and ruled in Ireland, England and elsewhere during the second half of the ninth century. They made a huge impact at the time, and in later sources they were among the most celebrated warriors of the Viking Age - famous for their notorious cruelty and wickedness as well as for their successful conquests.
There are interesting references to the fates of Lothbrok's sons, which connect them with particular places in England in some surprising ways.
In Norse legend Lothbrok has at least eight sons, sometimes more, but in English sources, he usually has just two or three: most often Ivar and Ubbe, with or without the addition of Beorn (i.e. the equivalent of Bjorn Ironside).
There are various stories and possible myths concerning what happened to Ubbe and Beorn, but these do not concern us here, but what of Ivar?
Ivar's name usually appears in medieval English texts as Inguar or Hinguar. A late fourteenth or early fifteenth century collection of Latin texts from Hyde Abbey in Winchester says that it was Ubbe who was swallowed up by the earth with his horse while he was riding, and Ivar (Hinguar) was drowned while crossing a ford in Berkshire. The place where he died came to be named after him, Hyngarford – modern Hungerford. This is thought to have happened c.870AD. The Latin word used (vadum) can mean both a morass or a ford.
W.H. Summers mentions this story in his book "The Story of Hungerford", but probably quite rightly he dismisses the tale, which is now recognised as little more than a piece of historical romance written at some date later than 1352.
2. A ford at a place of hunger:
A second derivation is implied by Dr. Margaret Gelling ("Place names of Berkshire") viz: the ford at the place where there is hunger [i.e. the land is infertile]. This derivation seems to lean towards the earlier idea of the area being a morass or marshy swamp and thus to give an explanation of why the place was virtually uninhabited at the time of Domesday and for some twenty years or more thereafter.
3. A hanging wood on a hill side:
A third possible derivation which has been less noticed is suggested by James B. Johnson who states that the oldest (14th -15th century) forms of Hungerford ‘all have ‘hungre’ but this can have nothing to do with the [modern] English ‘hunger’. It is Old English hongra or hangra, a hanging wood on a hill side. If this explanation is linguistically correct, it could refer to woods sloping down to the waterside near the ford, either from Eddington hill or possibly a portion of Savernake Forest, which extended to the site of what was later to become Hungerford town on the south and west.
Whichever derivation of the name is accepted, whether a ford into marsh land or a ford amid forest, the implication remains that the land to which the name was applied was uncultivated. In this it contrasts remarkably with land on the northern and drier northern slopes of the Kennet valley around and above Eddington.